Land Acknowledgement in Vancouver

When I first immigrated to Vancouver and heard people make land acknowledgements at the beginning of ceremonies and events, I often wondered if they were speaking in English and what they meant. It usually goes like this:

“I would like to acknowledge that we are gathered on the traditional, ancestral and unceded territory of the Coast Salish peoples–Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), Stó:lō and Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh) and xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam) Nations.”

As I gradually learn more about Indigenous history, I come to realize land acknowledgement is an act of reconciliation with the colonial past of this country we call Canada. It is as much a political statement as it is a personal affiliation towards the place we live, work and play, geographically and socially. So, who are the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh people?

Musqueam

The name Musqueam relates to a flowering plant which grows in the Fraser River estuary.  Musqueam people are descendants of the Coast Salish and have lived in what is now called Vancouver, North Vancouver, South Vancouver, Burrard Inlet, New Westminster, Burnaby, and Richmond for thousands of years.

Traditionally, they moved throughout their territory using the resources the land provides through fishing, hunting, trapping and gathering as their livelihood.  Today, they are a growing community of over 1,300 members, many of whom live on the Musqueam Indian Reserve, located south of Marine Drive near the mouth of the Fraser River.

Their traditional language is hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓ (Halkomelem) and they are closely related to neighbouring peoples of the lower Fraser River.  

(Source: https://www.musqueam.bc.ca/)

Squamish

Squamish Nation are descendants of the Coast Salish Aboriginal Peoples who lived in the present-day Vancouver, Burnaby and New Westminster, all of the cities of North Vancouver and West Vancouver, Port Moody and all of the District of Squamish and the Municipality of Whistler. The total area of Squamish Nation Traditional Territory is 6,732 square kilometers (673,200 hectares). Over 60% of the more than 3,600 Squamish Nation members live on reserve.

The Squamish Nation is a leader in the field of First Nations economic development; their sources of revenue are taxation, leases and Squamish-owned businesses.

They speak the Skwxwú7mesh Snichim (Squamish language) which is a critically endangered language.

(Source: https://www.squamish.net/)

Tsleil-Waututh

Tsleil-Waututh Nation is one of many groups of Coast Salish peoples living in the Pacific Northwest, throughout British Columbia, Washington, and Oregon.

Tsleil-Waututh Nation are “People of the Inlet” and their traditional territory includes Burrard Inlet and the waters draining into it. The community of over 500 members is now centred on Burrard Inlet, between Maplewood Flats and Deep Cove in North Vancouver.

They are known for their knowledge of the lands and waters as they travelled far and wide.

They speak Hunq’eme’nem/Hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓, the Downriver dialect of the Halkomelem language.

(Source: https://twnation.ca/)

From left to right): Symbols of Musqueam Indian Band (Salmon), Squamish Nation (Thunderbird) and Tsleil-Waututh Nation (Wolf-Man)

The MST (Musqueam, Squamish, Tsleil-Waututh) Development Corporation oversees six properties totaling 160 acres of lands throughout Metro Vancouver, valued at over $1 billion. They consist of:

  1. Marine Drive Lands in West Vancouver
  2. Jericho Lands (west) in Vancouver
  3. Jericho Lands (east) in Vancouver – co-owned with the Canada Lands Company
  4. Heather Street Lands in Vancouver – co-owned with the Canada Lands Company
  5. Former Liquor Distribution Branch site on East Broadway in Vancouver – co-owned with Aquilini Investment Group
  6. Willingdon Lands in Burnaby – co-owned by the Musqueam and Tsleil-Waututh with Aquilini Investment Group

(Source: http://mstdevelopment.ca/current-initiatives/)

The Fall 2020 MST Nations Membership Newsletter is available for download here:

In January 2021, two of B.C.’s largest cities, Richmond and Surrey rejected instituting territorial acknowledgement which has been made mandatory as the protocol when opening up meetings in major cities across the province of British Columbia such as Vancouver and Burnaby. While it is a topic of heated discussion, I think it helps to approach land acknowledgement as a source of knowledge, memory and connection to a past which is laden with teachings and wisdom. More than just a protocol or a checkbox to be ticked off, land acknowledgement is about building relations and co-existence in harmony. Read the article about decolonial facilitator Ta7talíya Michelle Nahanee here.

The point of diversity and inclusion is making the unfamiliar familiar, and a commitment to hearing out different voices. Needless to say, it is an elephant in the room and a difficult topic no one willingly engages in, yet there is no progress without struggle. As uncomfortable as it can feel to confront a sensitive topic, perhaps it is time we pause and take a few moments to ponder our relationship to the land and what we would like to leave behind for the future generations.

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